Life is a series of baby steps along the way and if you add up these tiny little steps you take toward your goal, whatever it is, whether it's giving up something, a terrible addiction or trying to work your way through an illness. When you total up those baby steps you'd be amazed over the course of 10 years, the strides you've taken. - Hoda Kotb
Sitting in the waiting room at a state hospital I played over and over again in my mind the words that splattered across my heart wounding me with no outward signs of the carnage they left behind, “I hate you, I don’t want to see you…” there were many others but those are the ones I’m comfortable with sharing, you see my loved one was in the state hospital after a bad stint in which he was committed for observation. I hadn’t been able to locate him and calling friends and driving around places where he once lived turned up nothing. Getting the phone call from my loved one to tell me they needed an insurance card to pay for the ambulance ride over to the hospital and for being treated in the ER was a huge relief because I now knew where they were.
For many who do not understand the life of a mental health caregiver that seems extreme and it may even drive them to tears and panic, but for a mental health family caregiver who has been in the trenches for a while that phone call represents so much. It’s a sign they are alive and not in a ditch somewhere, and for the next 72 hours we can sleep restfully knowing they are out of harms way, and lastly it’s a ray of hope that this time they are actually ready to be compliant and get into a treatment program.
Relapse can come without warning, relapse is the very ugly and very offensive cousin of mental illness, relapse is a thief stealing families peace and ravaging what little trust and security they once held onto. A loved one suffering a relapse can take one or two roads, they can hop right up and back into a treatment program or they can spiral so far out of control from the guilt of failing that they wind up much worse than they ever were.
I can remember being told I could go up to the floor where I would visit my loved one and the ride up to the floor. My first time being in a mental hospital and the experience getting to the visit was in itself very traumatic. Locked doors, cameras, bars on the external of the building, little windows with a nurse confirming who was there, a chamber to wait in upon entering and exiting the department where my loved one was housed. The room dark and only the nursing station lit, a ping pong table in the middle of the room, a sofa where people sat watching TV and others walked around murmuring to themselves. I was told to wait at the nursing station until my loved one was brought in. I watched as other family members at the tables were visiting their loved ones and they rocked and didn’t respond to them, while others carried on regular conversations and their faces held the expressions of someone visiting a loved one terminally ill.
My loved one walked up and my heart raced as I’d not seen them for weeks, my first response was to reach out and hug them but it was not well received there was hostility and I couldn’t understand why I knew I’d been there and did the very best I could, I knew how much our family had suffered in trying to be a support and how we were turned away at each corner. I would later understand the effects of a drug addiction and mental illness combined and how the anger played a role.
Until you have experienced the extremes of supporting someone with a drug addiction and a mental illness you will never fully understand the highs and lows a family can go through and the pain of watching a loved one self destruct.
Depending on who you get the story from in a journey to recovery you could hear two very different perspectives of what it’s like to get up every day not knowing what you will face supporting a loved one or you could get what it’s like to have people always in your business trying to tell you what to do or what is best for you and both versions would be right.
As a mental health family caregiver there are a range of emotions you can go through in a day from hopeful to hopeless. I try to talk openly about the perils of a caregiver while at the same time offering the perspective of what it’s like to be out of control of your own mental health and struggling as a survivor. Being an advocate, survivor and caregiver has a unique challenge attached to it because I want to raise awareness for mental health and make it common to speak about just like any other long term illness, and I want to show how it’s possible to live a full life with a mental illness while at the same time raising awareness for how much mental health family caregivers go through and the struggles of a loved one by sharing some experiences of those struggles without violating the privacy of my loved one or creating fear of negative symptoms of the illness or disorder. A very complex role but one that evolves throughout this journey.
As much as we love our loved ones and understand their battles with their brains and the difficulty of navigating a life full of obstacles in the forms of stress, addictions, stigmas, and prejudice it can get a bit overwhelming and tiring when they are not responding well to treatment or choosing to forgo treatment at all. When you aren’t sleeping because you are up worrying where they are and why you haven’t heard anything from them since they stormed out of the house two days ago or since they called you and got upset because you asked to see them and hung up in your face after saying a few choice words. The worry doesn’t go away but the need to find peace and the desire to have the emotional pain and torture go way starts to tug at you more and more every day.
How do we go on helping someone who doesn’t want to be helped? How to we come to a place of acceptance when a loved one has chosen to not go into treatment but continues needing our help and asking for our help only to go right back out and continue living a life of torturing themselves? How do we get through that day in and day out?
As a Christian parent who is praying and begging God every day to please come to our rescue and to please help our loved one to get better and we are not seeing an improvement how do we not give up on our faith? How do we not become bitter and stop talking to God?
I would like to share with you a few things you can do:
Remember you cannot forget about your spiritual, mental, emotional, and physical health: Neglecting your own health serves no one. See a therapist is necessary to help you to process what you are feeling and the emotions that come along with supporting someone with a drug addiction or alcohol addiction, especially if you don’t have experience with the range of emotions a family may experience living with an addict. It’s too complex and complicated to try processing those emotions alone.
Remember it’s not your fault: mental illness is a real illness and like any other illness that is not treated it will get worse. Your loved one has to be on board with the treatment or else it won’t work.
Remember your loved one would be better if they could: sometimes the illness can have less negative symptoms and during those times your loved one can stop taking medication and believe they are healed because they are starting to feel better. A loved one may suffer a set back or relapse as a result. Their ability to bounce back depends squarely on their ability to fight and how much they really want to fight.
Decide you will be a support and be compassionate and patient should your loved one decide they are truly ready to make the changes and work on themselves as well as be compliant with their mental health treatment: there is nothing more frustrating for a loved one than to be reminded of when they couldn’t get it together. If you are going to be a support understand what that requires and understand it will not be an easy road and may require your family to go into counseling in order to cope. It can take up to 5 years sometimes before a family can see marked progress and sometimes it takes longer.
Keep yourself surrounded by people who will pray for you, encourage you, and be your support when you are barely able to stand: Our faith is sometimes all we have left to stand on during our journey as a mental health family caregiver and therefore we must be deliberate about building, maintaining, and reinforcing our spiritual foundation. Bible study tools can be purchased that address our families unique set of circumstances and give us a connection to God on a personal level allowing us to find refuge in God’s peace.
In my journey of being a mental health family caregiver I can honestly say my relationship with God is what sustained me. I can also say there were times where I felt abandoned by God because there was hardly a moment where I could take a rest and the constant battle left my mind in a state of defeat. I wound up isolating myself spiritually and physically and gave into negative thinking like my life was over as I knew it, and that I would never know what having a normal life was like again. I believed my loved one would never get better and the enemy likes nothing more than for us to get to a place of defeat.
Stay prayerful, get involved in your church, get involved in a caregiving support group, adopt a social life if you don’t already have one. We have to be deliberate in how we live our lives, how we think, and how we view our role in our loved ones life. We are responsible for loving them unconditionally and being there when they need us or when they are ready to get on track but we are not responsible for their failure to comply or to invest in their lives to make them better. As much as we would like to make an impact on their lives, they must want to change and want to get better.
I pray God gives you the strength for this journey and remember to pray that God gives you endurance and courage as well. That is my prayer and that is my prayer for you. May today bless us with whatever makes us successful, and may God bless us all real good.
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